SEEK 4 – Disease
Bible Reading: Isaiah 53:1-6
Text: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5)
Some of us have lived through a unique period of history – for 100 years most of the Western world lived without plague or serious community disease. Of course, there was serious illness, including cancer, dementia and many other fatal and serious illnesses. But some even thought that we had defeated disease. And then along came Covid 19! And the whole world realised just how vulnerable we all are. One tiny virus almost brought the world to a standstill.
We ask why? And there are lots of answers. The most obvious one is human error, but that still doesn’t answer the question as to why God permitted it. Some Church leaders were quick to say that this has nothing to do with God. Others say that he caused it, and that it is a punishment for the world’s sin. I don’t accept either position. We are not in a position to pronounce that God is sending this as a particular punishment – he has not revealed that (unlike for example when he sent the plague as a punishment upon David and the Israelites in 2 Samuel 24). Likewise, I don’t believe that anything is outwith the sovereignty and power of God. Which means that covid did not take him by surprise, nor that he was powerless. The question then becomes, as you correctly put it – why does God permit disease?
We looked at this in the wider sense of all suffering in ASK 14. Have a read of that. But perhaps it is easier to explain this from a real-life example. Many years ago, I visited a man who was really angry with God – a God that he said he did not believe in. The conversation went something like this:
“Why are you angry with God?”
“Because he killed my wife”
“What?! Who told you that?”
“Some Christians said that it was God’s will that she should die.”
“Well, that was a pretty callous thing for them to say…. God did not kill your wife. What did she die of?”
“I’m so sorry to hear that. But the question is really, ‘Why is there Cancer in the world?’ And even more important than the why question – is, the what question. ‘What has God done about it?’”
Anyway, to cut a long story short, he invited me into his house and he and I continued the discussion. Every week for about six weeks I returned to meet with him, as we looked at what the Bible said about how God deals with evil, illness and suffering. Until one day I turned up at the door –
“Please go away.”
“Why? I thought we were getting on well?”
“We are. That’s the problem. You’re beginning to make sense. And I don’t want it to make sense. I prefer to be left in my bitterness and anger.”
It was such a sad moment. Because Isaiah 53 introduces us to God’s answer to suffering and disease – the suffering servant, Jesus Christ. He was a man of suffering and familiar with pain. This is not to say that Jesus automatically comes along and cures you of every illness you have instantly. Nor is it to justify those who foolishly said, ‘I won’t get covid, because Jesus is my vaccine’. In this sin sick and disease-ridden world, Jesus is not a vaccine, but he is the ultimate cure. In Revelation 7 there is this beautiful picture of heaven – a place where these is no hunger, thirst, or suffering. A place where God wipes away every tear from our eyes.
Psalm 91 assures us that God will save is “from the deadly pestilence”. The point is not that being a Christian means you never get sick – the point is that God will save you out of that sickness and that you are on your way to the new heavens and the new earth – where there is no more sickness and death. The cure for disease and death, is the eternal life offered by Christ.
Consider: If a doctor offered you a medicine that would cure your illness and take away your pain – would you take it? Christ offers eternal life – have you accepted his offer? Do you trust that even in sickness, he will lead you through the valley of the shadow of death and bring you into his house forever? (Psalm 23)
Further Reading: Where is God in a Coronavirus World? – John Lennox
Prayer: Lord God, we know that sin is the sickness. We bless you that you have provided the cure. Jesus Christ, our beautiful saviour, who experienced death, disease, and condemnation – that we might we set free from them all. We praise you for our suffering Saviour and long for the day when we will be with him in a place where disease and death are no more, in His name, Amen.